Monday, 30 July 2012

YuruYuri ♪♪ - Episode 5

It seems that Yui has been pressed into introducing this week's YuruYuri - an embarrassment for her, for sure, but then again she's featuring in YuruYuri so she should be used to feeling ashamed by now.

Anyhow, it's Summertime in this week's episode - how topical!  Of course, sudden heatwaves bring with them their own perils, such as realising that you have no batteries for your air conditioning remote, which is exactly the problem which strikes Kyoko.  So, off to the store to buy more batteries we go.... albeit via the homes of all of her friends first.  With completely the wrong batteries safely procured (insert incredibly sexist remark about women and technology here, because I'm certainly not going to), it seems like the perfect timing to arrange a trip to the pool the next day.

This particular trip doesn't work out too well for Akari - missing the train by a fraction of a second and left stranded on the platform while her friends leave without her, Akari has to make her own amusement until the next train arrives.  In her case, this involves talking to herself a lot and generally acting like a kid in a way which makes me wonder about her mental faculties.  Oh well... From here, a day off sick for Yui sees a surprisingly understanding turn from Kyoko (for the most part anyway), while Sakurako and Himawari spend some time together spying on Akari, possibly to help validate my suspicion that she's mentally deficient in some very important ways.

Despite being increasingly sure that Akari has some kind of special needs, this was another half-decent episode of YuruYuri - not constantly laugh out loud funny aside from Yui's video game-centric dreams, but entertaining and occasionally amusing to the point where (Akari becoming a little grating aside) it was easy-going and watchable.  Given that this is pretty much the best I can hope for from this series at this point, it does its job as an addition to the summer line-up that whiles away half an hour of the day - not the kind of thing I'll be shouting from the rooftops to see licensed, but something I don't mind kicking back to watch in streaming form.

Hyouka - Episode 15

The cooking competition may have been one, but the school culture festival is still far from over as we enter another instalment of Hyouka.

This fact is particularly bad news for Houtarou - after seeing the cooking club and their contest hit by the mysterious thief known as Juumoji to the detriment of the Classics Club team, Chitanda's curiosity has been piqued, and she isn't the only one.  Thus, his clubmates are decidedly keen to get Oreki's take on this sequence of thefts, and he doesn't fail to deliver as he points out that Juumoji shouldn't be read as a name, but rather a statement of intent - it seems that our perpetrator is aiming for a Christie-esque "alphabetical" sequence of thefts, which in itself raises the possibility of the Classics Club being the final "victim" of these incidents.

With plenty of anthologies still to sell, Satoshi and Chitanda in particular see this is a great opportunity to promote the Classics Club, and despite being as unwilling to make an effort as ever even Houtarou seems to have garnered some interest in this sequence of events.  While Eru tries to put her new-found skills of persuasion to good use in getting some school newspaper coverage through this scoop (her skills still need some work, incidentally), Fukube seems determined to one-up his friend by figuring out the culprit for himself, even though he doesn't get off to the best of starts.  While all of this is going on, another minor point of intrigue raises its head on account of Mayaka's continuing troubles within her Manga Society.

Although I have to give plenty of credit to this episode for somehow making what should have been a relatively mundane mystery into something oddly intriguing without even putting too much effort into it, for me this week's instalment is really all about its characters; more importantly, it's about the Classics Club members that surround Oreki.  Mayaka has been fascinating to watch throughout this entire story arc as we see a completely different side of her that hadn't been apparent before the culture festival began, and Chitanda's hard work seems to be a little more forced than we might have otherwise believed.  Then there's Satoshi, whose place in events really comes to the fore here as his hidden rivalry with (and jealousy towards) Houtarou builds in a way which will surely become increasingly important as this series moves inexorably closer to its end.  All in all, it's more compelling than it probably should be, as I'll be fascinated to see where this story arc eventually leads in both the short and longer term.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Tari Tari - Episode 5

Having lived up to his side of the bargain by fulfilling the musical duties of the club, it's now time for the other members to do their bit by supporting Taichi has he takes his place in the badmington tournament that he's been working so hard towards.

Despite the cheers of his friends, and indeed despite the fact that he manages an impressive top eight finish, it still isn't the top four result that Taichi required to reach the national finals, leaving him feeling a little down in the dumps as you might expect.  Sawa seems to cheer him up soon enough however, leaving herself and Miyamoto to turn their concerns to Wakana, who is far from being her normal self in the wake of the letter from her mother handed to her in last week's episode.

This letter seem to have brought back memories aplenty from Wakana's past, and not particularly happy ones at that - while Wakana's mother was always looking to goof around, sing songs and play music, Wakana herself was (as she is now) deadly serious, and primarily concerned with school grades and exams to the point of shunning her parents and their frivolous (in her mind) thoughts as a result.  Such was Wakana's drive to succeed that her mother didn't even tell her that she was ill, leaving her only to find out when it was far too late to say any goodbyes - a decision which has left this youngster not only regretting that, but also blaming herself for her mother's sickness.

After failing to grab me last week, this time around Tari Tari did rather better at drawing me into its emotional crux as it related the full story of Wakana and her relationship with her mother before she passed away.  Much like everything else within this series it didn't feel particularly original, yet it still had sufficient impact to move me somewhat and create an important pivot within the series for both Wakana and her club-mates, while still finding time for just the right amount of character-driven humour to offset that drama.  Tari Tari won't be winning any awards for originality, as I've asserted before (so maybe me and this show have something in common?), but it's still doing a decent enough job as a piece of throw-away entertainment that will most likely be long forgotten by the time the end of this year rolls around.  Sometimes it's okay to be disposable entertainment just like that.

Rinne no Lagrange: Season 2 - Episode 4

Aside from giving Madoka some decidedly "different" experiences to chew over last week, the Vox Particle Control Experiment at which our protagonist and the Vox Aura found themselves at the centre also demonstrated the frightening potential of said combination of craft and pilot to the masses.

Having witnessed this demonstration themselves, both Dizelmine and Villagiulio are keen to meet on the neutral territory of Kamogawa, if only to press home their home desires to one another - something which Asteria is more than happy to allow them to do in the privacy of... a broken elevator.  With CCTV cameras so that everyone can watch their entire conversation.  While any hope of compromise already looks remote, the arrival of an erraticly piloted Ovid for the Le Garite mothership destroys the "conference entirely".

Things only get worse when the pilot of said craft is revealed - Yurikano, the younger sister of Villagiulio who is now in the care of Dizelmine while having no recollection of her brother and his men due to the events from which Dizelmine rescued her effectively wiping her memory.  Needless to say, this is the cause of some distress for Villagiulio as Yurikano refuses to even go near him, while Madoka is also drawn to this childlike girl as a spitting image of the person who confronted her in the Vox Aura during her previous experiment.  Such is her curiosity that Madoka and Muginami disguise themselves to make their way aboard Dizelmine's ship along with Lan - a move which is only likely to further confuse the political issues surrounding the two factions currently in conflict.

I'm not sure quite how it manages to do it (mostly because I can't put a finger on my own feelings towards the series), but once again Rinne no Lagrange has proved itself to be more entertaining to watch than its contents and plot progression suggest that it should be.  I would wager this is largely down to the fact that the series continues to refuse to take itself seriously, happily throwing some daft but humorous comedy into the midst of otherwise serious machinations surrounding galactic politics.  It really shouldn't work, but between Madoka's cheerful meddling and the behaviour of others it ultimately manages to get away with it, leaving me with a smile on my face each week even if I probably don't give a monkey's about the future of Le Garite or De Metrio as a result of the show's outlook on its story.

Space Brothers - Episode 18

Those pesky green cards really are playing havoc with our prospective astronauts as their latest round of testing draws towards a close, with broken clocks, phantom alarms and food shortages all serving to plague them; or at least, Mutta assumes that all of these things are green card related.

Unfortunately for Mutta himself, even he isn't going to be left out of the green card fun as he receives some instructions of his own - to make his crew-mates jump twice a day by making a loud noise.  Although he bemoans the misfortune of receiving this task it seems to be right up his street, and he wastes no time in getting into the thick of doing what is required of him.  But will the other crew members think that he's weird?  Well, it's far, far too late to be worrying about that already, my friend...

If only Makabe had such irreverent concerns - as he completes his puzzle of YuruYuri's Akari and allows his mind to drift back to incidents in his past, he frets that he's too used to playing devil's advocate while he ponders how to reunite the seemingly fractured relationships within Team B.  Of course, Mizoguchi still isn't helping along those lines, and with additional issues such as the deletion of the data the team were compiling to help choose their candidates raising their head, things only become more fraught.  Such is the pressure within the group that Makabe looks all set to lose his head in the heat of everything that's going on - luckily for him, his daughter of all people comes to the rescue, as he finally realises the words she'd been trying to say to him before his departure for the exam.

Even though I keep suggesting that this section of the series is threatening to outstay its welcome and go on for too long, I can't really fault the fact that it keeps rolling on at a decent clip and finding ways to keep its experience compelling - the shift in focus towards Makabe this week was a smart one, as clearly there was a lot more to say about his experience and difficulties at present compared to Mutta's situation, and this fresh perspective certainly helped to further extend the longevity of this section of the show.  Now that he's reached his own epiphany, I think it's time to move on and close out this current round of testing - unless of course we're going to get a glimpse of Team C, who I still assume have torn one another limb from limb by this point based on the fact that we haven't heard from them in an eternity.

Joshiraku - Episode 3

We've had to wait a little for a subtitled version of this third episode of Joshiraku, but better late than never as they say.

It seems as if poor old Marii is the butt of all the jokes again, if only for the first segment of this episode as a discussion about giving out Valentine's Day chocolates turns to queries as to Marii's real gender.  Once the other girls have convinced themselves that she is actually a he, it seems that even baring her chest isn't good enough for them, and Marii's subsequent efforts to sit and stand "properly" prove to be nothing short of disastrous.  With those avenues exhausted, there's only one thing for it - a trip to the public baths, although even this doesn't really seem to reprieve Marii from becoming a figure of fun.

With that argument put to one side, next up the girls pay a visit to the Kaminari Gate in Asakusa - but is it the world's best gate?  The Brandenburg Gate and the Arc de Triomphe might have something to say about that, although then again are they even proper gates at all given that they don't particularly lead towards anything?  These queries are moved to the back burner as the girls try their luck at getting a good fortune, with varying degrees of success.  In fact, speaking of luck just how does Tetora manage to enjoy such good fortune in all things?  Her innate ability to avoid bad things happen to her provokes jealousy in the others until they decide to simply copy everything that she does - before we know it, we're enjoying the world's first break-dancing rakugo performance, even if the audience most decidedly are not.

After the hilarity of episode two, and despite a bit of a break to freshen me up for more of this series, this wasn't as strong an episode as its predecessor.  Thankfully, that isn't to say it was entirely a damp squib, as it had a fine vein of slapstick comedy running through it and more than enough entertainment to keep things interesting from beginning to end without ever really outstaying its welcome.  Thanks to that half-decent pacing and half-decent humour punctuated by bigger laughs, Joshiraku remains a pretty enjoyable keeper in my summer season line-up.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 15

Following recent events, this week's Eureka Seven AO finds the show's semi-titular hero suffering from nightmares surrounding Naru, in turn causing a lack of sleep which is, of course, rather problematic when you're a mecha pilot.

It seems that Generation Bleu are also a little curious about Ao's current physical and mental state, even going to the lengths of calling for site-wide medical check-ups just so that they can investigate his current state.  Mind you, Ao isn't the only one acting odd in the wake of Eureka's visit to Earth - various parties are rethinking the role of the Secrets as word spreads about their rumoured role as protectors rather than aggressors, and what's more there are more and more reports of Scub Bursts complimented by ever-more humanoid looking Secrets.

We get to see just how true this is as Generation Bleu are called out to another oddity - a previously neutralised area of Scub Coral that has since reactivated.  As Pied Piper despatch to investigate, they come across a seemingly deadly and decidedly humanoid Secret who manages to take down Ao while proving decidedly difficult to tackle itself.  With Scub Coral and reactivating all over the place and Secrets emerging with them, it looks like this is going to be all too much for even Generation Bleu's resources to deal with, but maybe the Secrets themselves have the answer?  At last, we stumble upon the possibility of gaining some answers for this show's myriad questions as a Secret captured by the Japanese and able to comprehend English looks set to reveal their mission, while Generation Bleu themselves plan desperate measures to resolve the currently escalating scenario.

At the moment, it feels as though Eureka Seven AO has so much going on that it's difficult to know where to focus as a viewer, such are the multitude of constantly shifting and turning elements contained within each episode.  Certainly, this is no shallow sequel to Eureka Seven, and as such it isn't suffering from the moments of relative calm and distraction of that original series, which to be fair is a good thing... providing it can resolve everything in its remaining episodes.  There's so much to hold our attention at this point that it seems churlish to complain about any of it - the mysteries swirling around in my head alone are sufficient to fill the gap between episodes (although perhaps less so as we take a break for the Olympics), and I'm becoming increasingly fascinated by what the series is trying to do in the long run.  Here's hoping it doesn't crash and burn by attempting to tackle too much.

Kokoro Connect - Episode 4

After all that worrying about Yui, it seems as if Inaba is the member of the gang that everyone should really have been concerning themselves with judging by her collapse at the end of last week's episode.

Although she recovers and is back up and running in no time at all, albeit seeming a little sluggish compared to her usual self, there's clearly still more to Inaba's problems behind her mature and snide facade - not that she has any trouble side-stepping such questions by pushing Taichi's worries directly towards Iori by hinting that the has problems of her own that need resolving.  Given this outburst, Iori has no choice but to share her secret with Taichi, as she recounts a life with numerous "dads" as her mother moved from man to man for various reasons, while also explaining what this constantly shifting backdrop to her life has meant for her personality.  In short, she's become something of a "chameleon", changing her behaviour and personality to best suit and placate those around her to the point where she's seemingly lost sight of who she is as an individual.

With Taichi's assertions that she is who she is no matter what, our thoughts can turn back to Inaba, with a body swapping incident between her and Taichi proving that she's in a far from healthy state, and not just physically either.  Ultimately, Inaba can't hide the truth any more and pours her thoughts out to Taichi - despite going through these body-swapping incidents with her best friends, put simply she can't trust them, with a combination of over-worry and control freakery causing her anxiety to the point of illness.  Against her better judgement, Taichi persuades her to share her concerns with the entire group, who prove to be more understanding than she expects them to be - almost as understanding as Inaba herself is to Taichi's confession of a rather unconventional secret of his own.

In the short term, I have to admit that I've been warming to Kokoro Connect of late - its body-swapping antics seem to know when to take a step back and allow the human drama to take centre stage, and thankfully that drama this week is all something I can relate to (as both a control freak and something of a social chameleon myself).  The biggest problems with the show at this point are two-fold - firstly, any drama has been short-lived, and brushed off with far too much ease with little more than a friendly "it'll all be okay" (or a friendly kick in the balls in last week's case) that kills any dramatic tension in its tracks, and secondly, it doesn't feel like it has enough substance to continue to be entertaining along its current lines.  Hopefully the series still has some shifts and tricks up its sleeve, because right now I'm not sure what else it can do with its characters and their situations as they stand without simply diving into "boring love comedy-drama" territory.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Moyashimon Returns - Episode 4

It's crunch time for Sawaki in this week's Moyashimon Returns, as he finally mans up and tells Oikawa about his unique microbe-spotting ability.  Or is it actually crunch time at all?

Perhaps inevitably, Oikawa doesn't believe a word that Tadayasu is saying, and assumes that he's just spouting dumb nonsense in the hope of cheering her up from her current depression after the underground passageway was revealed to be nothing exciting.  With thoughts turning to the harvest festival, it seems that there's no escaping hard work for the students as they ponder setting up a stall for said festival - but who is going to take charge of it all?

The obvious answer to this would normally be Hasegawa, but following on from her earlier arranged marriage troubles it seems as if her father has run out of patience with her and, more or less, simply snatched her away from the university grounds before dumping her on a plane to take a trip with her boorish prospective husband.  It's left to a drunk (do I even need to mention that?) Mutou to deliver the bad news, comprising simply of Haruka's lab coat and a notice of withdrawal from her studies to Professor Itsuki, and although Oikawa soon learns about what's going on the other students are left in the dark at this point.

Having spent the last few weeks celebrating the return of Moyashimon and praising it highly from episode to episode, I have to confess - this week's instalment was pretty dull.  With its educational elements pretty severely restricted and Sawaki's confession turning into a briefly amusing moment that was ultimately a damp squib, there wasn't a whole lot to drive this episode as it spent more of its time setting up the question of what the group do about Haruka's disappearance from the scene.  Hopefully that thought will give plenty of room for manoeuvre as the show moves forward, but it doesn't really hide the fact that this week's episode was somewhat snooze-worthy.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Natsuyuki Rendezvous - Episode 4

It's date time for Hazuki and Rokka, as their first proper day out together sees them heading off to that classic "first date" attraction, an amusement park.  It's a prospect that leaves even the usually verbose Shimao unusually quiet.

Although this should be a day of joy and bliss, it seems to be anything but for Hazuki as he spends most of his time fretting - worrying about Shimao and how he feels about what's going on, worrying about Rokka and whether he can make her smile like the photo of her at the exact same park in the past that he's seen, and so on.  In comparison, it seems as if Rokka is the calmest of the pairing here, happily leading the way by taking Hazuki's hand and choosing what to visit.

That said, even Rokka isn't quite as forward as she might appear - Hazuki's admittedly ham-fisted attempts to take the lead surprise her, and she's clearly still carrying the burdens of her marriage and Shimao's passing heavily upon her shoulders to the point where she can't help but break down and cry.  Ironically, it's another of Hazuki's ill thought-out comments which brings her out of this funk and puts a smile on her face, but by destroying Hazuki's own self-confidence in the process.  In response, this turns him to drink, and his druken state seems like the perfect opportunity for Shimao to take advantage of his body... if you know what I mean.

Once again, there are things I love and things that I loathe about this week's Natsuyuki Rendezvous - it's awkward yet subdued first date scenario does a pretty good job of nailing how these things can often go when one or both parties are thirty-something (whatever happened to youthful exuberance?), and the pressure of having to live up to former boyfriends or lovers could well drive you stir-crazy if you thinking about it too much.  However, this does nothing to sidestep the fact that it's still really, really hard to like Hazuki as he says stupid things and, well, acts like a dick basically - if we're supposed to be cheering him on in his efforts to woo Rokka, his behaviour right now is doing the exact opposite, and I can't really find anything particularly more positive to say about Shimao on this occasion either.  A romance-based story where I don't like either of the male suitors?  That's enough to set alarm bells ringing for me.

Monday, 23 July 2012

AKB0048 - Episode 13 (Completed)

What should have been a triumphant homecoming for at least some of the understudies of AKB0048 proved to be anything but in the show's penultimate episode, with Nagisa left mentally scarred by her parents plight while the entire concert on Lancastar is brought to a rapid and impromptu end by a massive DES attack.

Despite that huge show of force, the girls themselves are determined that the concert can't end like this, knowing full well what an early retreat might mean for the entertainment ban.  However, it seems that nothing will persuade Tsubasa to risk the lives of any of the group members, be they understudies or otherwise, in the name of entertainment.  It seems that this decision is about to be taken out of her hands by a familiar voice from above regardless though...

Thus, the show must go on, and AKB0048 return to Lancastar in perhaps the most dangerous but politically important place possible - right above the planet's detainment facility.  Even though DES are ready to attack once again, it seems that they'll have less luck in halting the concert this time, as the group themselves show an unheard of power level that adds not only to their performance, but also their ability to fight back.  Even Nagisa finds it within herself to recover from her earlier trauma and take a lead role in the solo song meant for her once she sees her parents safe and sound at the hastily reassembled concert.  Mysterious goings-on abound as the concert comes towards its close, as Takamina secures her place as the group's head once again while other developments are less easily resolved; developments that it seems we'll be learning more about in 2013.

So, this is more of an au revoir than a goodbye for AKB0048 - I have to give this series some kudos for daring to be different and striking out in a very different direction than I expected, complete with some cheekily presented twists and turns to keep us on our toes early in the season.  Conversely, its main plot also proved to be the show's downfall to some degree - the idea of an entertainment ban is fine, but to see it pursued so aggressively became increasingly ridiculous and hard to stomach the longer the series went on, especially when played with such a straight bat despite all of its "mic-sabres" and glowstick homing missiles.  Throw a bunch of frequently overblown idol drama into that mix and you have a pretty mediocre series that shone occasionally (and this finale was probably the series at its absolute best in a lot of ways) but was a long way off attracting the attention of the kirara, let alone claiming the Centre Nova spot of the spring season.  With the promise of depicting the notorious elections in whatever form this franchise takes next year though, chances are I'll be signing up for more of the same when the series returns, especially given the unanswered questions left frustratingly open by this finale.

YuruYuri ♪♪ - Episode 4

After a suitably spectacular introduction by Mecharin (who would probably be welcome as a regular character in this series), it's time for another episode of YuruYuri!

This time around, we find ourselves ensconced in the midst of spring, which seems to be causing some allergy problems, not least for Sugiura who seems to have it bad.  Indeed, such is her problem that not only does she run out of tissues (and we've all been there at some point in our lives), but she even considers the same drastic (and unfortunately topical) measures taken by science teacher Nishigaki.  The spring theme continues as we join the student council for a spot of spring cleaning, which ends up turning into Sugiura making a desperate attempt to keep some expensive pudding from the clutches of Sakurako, only to end up giving it away in a slightly more positive manner thanks to Kyouko.

Nishigaki returns later in the episode as an attempt to fix a broken clock turns into something far more grandiose, while said teacher also fills in some of her back story... well, she fills it in twice to be precise, but only once truthfully.  Finally, a rainy day after school sees the usual crew trying to pass the time until the rain passes over, while Yui also discusses what she should do in return for the hand-made Valentine's Day gift she received from Chinatsu.

After having some more positive things to say about YuruYuri last week, that sense that the series is warming up in comedy terms continues via another instalment that squeezed just about enough entertainment out of its varied subject matter to feel worthwhile.  Even then, this is still a close-run thing - when you finish an episode and start writing it up and struggle to remember what happened or why it was funny, you pretty much have a definition of a throw-away anime comedy, and that is basically what YuruYuri is, for better or worse.

Hyouka - Episode 14

It's time for another day at the school festival in this week's Hyouka - has coverage of a school festival ever gone on for this long in an anime series?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Despite not having found the manga that Mayaka was convinced would blow her manga club president's mind, it seems that the previous day's outburst has been forgiven as another day of the festival begins in earnest - while Mayaka finds herself busy with the manga club preparing posters, Chitanda is once again on the prowl for anyone willing to sell copies of the Classics Club's anthology on their stalls.  Luckily for her, Irisu is more than willing to help, and even goes so far as to give Eru a lesson in the powers of persuasion which our curious friend simply laps up.  Meanwhile, Houtarou's habit of making bizarre trades with stall-goers in the club room itself continues - but hey, who knows when some wheat flour could come in handy?

This question inevitably takes on importance when the second half of this episode sees the Classics Club take on all-comers at the festival's cooking competition - after Satoshi makes a decent fist of his part in proceedings, Chitanda blows away the opposition with her culinary abilities.  The trouble is, she's a little too efficient in the kitchen, and by the time Mayaka belatedly arrives for her turn at the table there are virtually no ingredients left.  Enter Houtarou and his flour to save the day, and nab the Classics Club an all-important (or unimportant, perhaps) victory.  But why did the Classics Club have a ladle missing from the equipment laid out for them?  It seems that the culture festival's phantom thief has been at it again, as their bizarre fetish for pinching or borrowing things in a mysterious manner continues.

I really don't know quite how Hyouka is managing to do it, but despite its culture festival story arc seemingly well and truly outstaying its welcome having been spread over so many episodes, it's still managing to be a whole lot of fun to watch - and surprisingly tense too as its cooking segment moved into its final stages!  Once again, the show's impeccable animation values help, but there's a certain something about watching this show and its characters go about their business that I can't quite put a finger on that just seems to work perfectly, to the point where recent episodes have almost been more enjoyable than the show's mystery quotiant.  Of course, it's the mysterious side of things to which we return next week by the look of it now that so much time has been spent building up something new for Houtarou to get his teeth into - hopefully it won't disappoint after this much preparation, I'd hate to see it run out of steam like some over-prepared cooking content dish.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Tari Tari - Episode 4

After their audition for a place in the local "world music festival" ended up being hijacked as more of a full-on concert of sorts, all sorts of coincidences fall into place for Miyamoto and her gang.

For Miyamoto's own part, she discovers that the band which chimed in with an impromptu musical accompaniment to the audition are none other than the Condor Queen's - a band with a poor sense of punctuation but nonetheless a special place in Miyamoto's heart as she reveres them and their music.  Such is her love for the group that she wastes no time in offering them her own club's place in the music festival; indeed, she seems more than happy simply to drop everything she's doing in terms of club activities to spend time with the Condor Queen's, much to the chagrin of Sawa.

In the meantime, we find out that Wakana's "stalker" is also a member of the Condor Queen's, who has been following Wakana on account of her similarity to her mother, who worked with and wrote songs for the band in the past.  This ultimately leads to Wakana being given a letter written to the band by her mother around the time of her birth, which seems likely to reverberate through future episode of the series.  As or Miyamoto, she soon learns the errors of her selfish, starstruck ways, and with a little help from Wakana she finds her own path towards making the world music festival a success for her and her club, if only a minor one.

With much of its humour trimmed down this week to make way for building up other elements of its story and characters, this particular instalment of Tari Tari felt a little dry and dull to me - there was nothing to really grab my attention and for all of its fun moments I simply couldn't get engrossed in what was going on.  Sure, this episode looked as visually gorgeous as ever, but that doesn't really cut it for me, and without lots of laughs the show's plot really doesn't have what it takes to provide anything memorable at this point in time.

Rinne no Lagrange: Season 2 - Episode 3

Now that Madoka has been reunited with her best buddies Lan and Muginami, it seems as if our protagonist doesn't have a care in the world as she frolics on the beach in her own inimitable style.

Of course, despite such fun and frolics there's no getting away from the gravity of the situation in space, and more specifically for both of Madoka's friends, and with the galactic conference that aims to reach some kind of agreement between Le Garite and De Metrio drawing ever nearer the tension is palpable.

With no obvious agreement between these two factions in sight as things stand, Asteria is desperate to find some way of showing the potential of the Vox beyond destruction, leading to a potentially dangerous suggestion - for Madoka to perform the same Vox Particle Control Experiment foisted upon Lan by her brother.  Having already seen how dangerous this can be for a person's psyche, Lan in particular is none too keen on the idea, but ultimately everyone (Madoka included) decides that it's the only way forward.  As the experiment begins, it seems as it Madoka is going to be either too strong or too plain dumb for the testing to even work - at least, that is, until Asteria proves herself adept at pushing just the right buttons on the test subject.  Even she is shocked by the results however, as Madoka posts numbers off the charts, and the whole thing looks set to go horribly wrong as the sky turns red and strange beings start to appear like some kind of Evangelion rip-off.  Luckily, Madoka has her wits about her just enough to shut down whatever is going on, but it's another terrifying example of the Vox Aura's power within Madoka's hands, and it's a demonstration that hasn't gone unnoticed by the other factions who have been taking more than a keen interest in such developments.

Having been all ready to dismiss this episode as being a bit dull and with not much going on during its first two-thirds, all of that changed by the final segment of this episode as it wastes no time in showing just how lethal the Vox Aura could be in the wrong hands.  Perhaps the more pressing question now is whether Madoka's hands are the right ones given the terrifying visions seen here - visions which maintain Rinne no Lagrange's place as a visually striking riot of colour from the viewer's perspective, at least.  I do worry that the series as a whole is moving too slowly when I expected a brisker pace after the opening to this second season, but given its visuals and its ability to offset all the serious stuff with just the right amount of humour, at least it's still pretty fun to watch even when it seems to be spinning its wheels.

Space Brothers - Episode 17

Between broken clocks and alarms sounding in the middle of the night, the stress is palpably growing as we reach the final straight of the current selection exam.

While Team B have been handling the "phantom alarm" problem for a little while now, it's a new experience for Team A as it sounds in the middle of the night - by this point, I assume we can discount the members of Team C as having all murdered one another in the night given how long it's been since we last heard about them.  Anyhow, I digress - rather than simply ignoring the alarm or not worrying about it until morning, the crew of Team A carry out a full-on (and fruitless) search to try and find its source.

It's at this point that Mutta beings to join the dots as to what's going on - seeing how suspiciously and out of character Yasushi is behaving makes it clear to the eagle-eyed Mutta that he's the culprit in some way, shape or form, but it doesn't answer perhaps the more pressing question of why.  As Mutta ponders this, he's struck with a memory of a previous conversation he's had, and upon pinning down this memory he recalls a discussion while watching Hibito train at NASA regarding so-called "green cards" - special instructions given to one individual in secret to test the ability of others, or a group as a whole, to function under stress or when someone else has made a mistake.  That problem solved in Mutta's mind, his reaction to this knowledge seems to calm down the entirety of Team A... but what about their food shortage?  That can only be another JAXA green card prank, right Mutta?

Although it's arguably taken a little too long to get there, it was immensely satisfying to see Mutta join the dots and figure out what was going on within the exam, even if it requires quite a suspension of disbelief that nobody else had mooted this possibility right at the start - I'm no prospective astronaut, but I've seen enough Big Brother to know what the purpose of such activities would be.  I'm still a little concerned that we still feel a little way off the climax of this current selection exam - I'm not too sure how much more drama or entertainment can be wrought from it at this point, and I'm really eager to move onto the crux of these tests so that we can head off in a new direction.  I get the feeling we still have a little way to go before this takes place however, so much like the would-be astronauts themselves I guess I'm just going to have to remain patient.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Kokoro Connect - Episode 3

Although it was hardly a welcome way to spend some time after school, it seems that Inaba and Taichi's round of mutual volunteering for clean-up duty around the town has at least given them an opportunity to talk about things that wouldn't otherwise be discussed.

Apart from having seemingly set Taichi up with Iori, Inaba seems quite determined to psychoanalyse him, pinning him (quite rightly it turns out) as a guy who will selflessly do anything to help others even if it hurts him.  While the reasoning behind her digging and discussion isn't really clear, her concerns about the group falling apart as individuals under the stresses of the body-switching which is dogging their every day life most certainly is.

Just some of Inaba's concerns come to light not long after - not so much because Taichi and Aoki make the most of a body switch between themselves and Inaba and Kiriyama, but more because Aoki has picked up on the fact that Yui is seemingly terrified whenever she's close to the boys thanks to his experiences in her body.  Lo and behold, it appears that for all her karate skills Yui is androphobic and hates being around guys - quite the shocking revelation all things considered.  When Yui and Taichi swap bodies that night, the opportunity arises for the latter to quiz the former about the reason for her phobia, and it seems that he might even have a solution (at least in part) to her problem, delivered in his own typically selfless style.  Is it really Yui that the group should even be worrying about though?

Having been unimpressed by its start, Kokoro Connect seems to be settling into its skin (with every pun intended) quite nicely - the show is clearly not going to be some kind of dramatic tour de force or anything of that nature, but it seems to be holding the line between having a little fun with its scenario and using it as a solid grounding for exploring its characters in a satisfactory way, and thankfully all of those characters now seem sufficiently interesting to be worth exploring.  It's certainly pretty heavy-handed in the way it goes about doing things (witness how Taichi's selfless personality is spelled out so that later events make perfect sense), but lack of nuance aside I'm finding myself starting to enjoy watching the series somewhat, for the time being at least.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 14

In the midst of new opening and closing credits for this series, Naru seems to have discovered a new truth about the identity and origins of the Scub Coral.  Although is it the truth, the true truth, or Truth's truth?

While we're trying to wrap our heads around this, we return to the on-going chaos in Japanese waters as Truth tries to stop Eureka and Ao, while the emergence of a Scub Burst seems to give Eureka a perfect opportunity to escape... provided Truth will let her, of course.  It seems that he isn't Eureka's only enemy either, as Elena continues to behave downright bizarrely and even Nirvash itself goes berserk at a most inopportune time.  None of this is enough to prevent Eureka's escape however, albeit not before delivering one final shock for Ao - the baby she is heavily pregnant with is a girl.

Rather thrown by this revelation, Ao travels home to try and find out some more about his mother, indirectly finding out more about his errant father as a result.  This hunt for information is quickly superceded by news of Naru's whereabouts at a hospital on the island.  This isn't the Naru of old however - her perceived knowledge of the origin and true nature of the Scub Coral gives her a cool, detached confidence, and she seems far more willing to do Truth's bidding than stick around with Ao - an impression that comes to fruition as Naru leaves Ao in the dust as she takes on an IFO with a view towards her own ends.

Things certainly aren't getting any simpler within the world of Eureka Seven AO - although we're being treated to more and more information to build up a picture of that world in each episode, such is the sense of doubt in terms of who is telling the truth and who's got it right that it's genuinely difficult to build up a picture that you could even vaguely claim to be accurate.  It's this sense of the unknown, even at this stage in the series, that is actually working in the show's favour at this point, serving as it does as arguably the most compelling aspect of a series that seems to be more about the big picture than focusing too closely on any one individual, even in the case of Ao himself.  The only worry at the moment is that the series doesn't know how its going to resolve all the questions it's asking, but for the time being it feels quite confident in what it's trying to do, and with any luck that confidence will prove to be fully justified.

Moyashimon Returns - Episode 3

Oikawa (or rather, "Team Oikawa") might still be concerning herself with the mystery of the hidden underground passage, but away from this it seems that Haruka has something even more vital on her plate.

Such are her worries about her future, as her father threatens to drag her away from her research with an eye towards an arranged marriage, that she largely ditches her work for the time being, leaving the other's to pick up the miso-making slack - a decision that at least grants us another of this show's cute little educational segments to explain said process via a kind of idiot's guide.

After a breather in the form of a trip to see the grand (or not so grand) re-opening of the Hiyoshi Liquor Store under the iron fist and smart ideas of Kei, returning to their work sees Oikawa and company run into Haruka.  While she fills her junior's head with ideas about just what the hidden passage that Oikawa is fascinated with could contain, a serendipitous opportunity presents itself, as said secret passage is open for all and sundry to see.  What horrors lurk in the cellar beneath the laboratory?  How about some beer?  This anti-climax sends Oikawa into a depression that seems to spur Sawaki on to finally spill his secret with her...

Perhaps in keeping with Oikawa's own sense of disappointment, this week's Moyashimon Returns did feel like a bit of an anti-climax - it somehow seemed to lose a little of its energy in terms of humour and characterisation, and while I still enjoyed its educational elements greatly there wasn't really anything to shout about throughout most of the episode beyond that.  Then again, given the delicious "cliff-hanger" to the episode and all it might entail for Sawaki and Oikawa's relationship going forward, it seems like we'll have no such concerns about nothing noteworthy happening in next week's episode.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Natsuyuki Rendezvous - Episode 3

After a slow start, Natsuyuki Rendezvous almost caught me unawares as it suddenly dragged me into the midst of its very particular brand of emotional turmoil last week.

As we rejoin events, Rokka is left to recover from her cold while Miho and Hazuki take turns tending to the store, as all the whole Rokka dreams and reminisces about her former husband.  The trouble is, these reminiscences cause her to realise some similarities between Shimao and Hazuki, and despite the events of episode two it seems that this particular romance is very much back on the cards as Hazuki pays his manager a visit at her temporary sickbed.

Needless to say, this turn of events doesn't go down well with Shimao, and it appears that this is one ghost that you don't want to make angry, as typical poltergeist goings-on like shakings floors and things flying around the room ensue.  Rokka might assume it's an earthquake, but Hazuki knows better and confronts his deceased love rival, only to find himself being bombarded with desperate requests from Shimao to borrow his body for a while.  Of course, this doesn't fly at all with Hazuki - although he still worries inwardly about Rokka's happiness and where it lays, it doesn't stop him offering to take her out on a date.  Whether this is a good idea as things stand is another matter entirely...

Having been blown away by last week's episode, I was less impressed by this latest instalment of Natsuyuki Rendezvous. It certainly still had its moments and did a great job of depicting Shimao's distress in places, but there's something disappointing about the move to give him the ability to affect physical objects - the big driver of last week's episode was the emotional turmoil that came from being entirely unable to affect the world around him, yet this has suddenly been thrown away in favour of something he can physically do to (quite literally) shake up his world.  Perhaps this shift in the story will be used smartly moving forward, but at the moment it feels like a bit of a step backwards which detracts a little from the expertly viewed emotional situation between the main cast of characters.  Still, it's enjoyable to be able to watch a show with a more grown-up cast, and as episode two proved there's no shortage of potential to this series when it hits the right notes, so hopefully it can hammer on a few more of them before this show is out.

K-ON! Movie

Those light music club girls just don't know when to quit - after two seasons of anime, Houkago Teatime returns, seemingly with a very new musical direction that takes even Azusa by surprise.

Of course, this is nothing more than a fun ruse, but there is some serious business to be addressed as graduation beckons - what should the group buy Azusa as a goodbye present to give her when they graduate?  Somehow, this train of thought ends up with discussion of a graduation trip thanks to some of their classmates, and with no agreement on where this trip should take them it's left to Ton-chan (of all things) to make the final decision.  His choice?  London.  A good move, dear boy, a very good move indeed.

So, off we head to good ol' Lahndan tahn for the mainstay of the film, as the girl's take in the sights and sounds, get caught up in an unexpected concert at a sushi bar, and ultimately find themselves tempted into a last-minute gig on the banks of the Thames before their short stay in England's capital city comes to an end.  Throughout their stay, Yui's thoughts in particular are on the group's parting gift to Azusa - although they've decided that it should be delivered in the form of song by this point, exactly what could they create that would be suitably grandiose?  The trouble is, Yui and company's shiftiness around Azusa on account of their efforts are only making their friend worry, although all is ultimately well as graduation becomes more than a date on the calendar and high school life finally comes to an end for the majority of Houkago Teatime.

While I'm sure none of us had massive expectations of a dramatic or intense character-centric story, this K-ON movie is very much a film of two halves - the first and last half hour of the movie frankly drag on rather too long and spend too much time setting up and closing out the story; a problem thankfully mitigated to at least some degree by the actual trip to England itself, which is where the film really gets to breathe, break out from the norm and have some fun.  Of course, this is spoken very much from the view of a guy who, y'know, lives in England and spends a fair amount of time in London each year, so I got a real kick out of seeing so many recognisable places and landmarks animated and visited by the show's main cast, but I'd like to think that even beyond this the London setting also allowed for some decent humour and fun to be had aside from the gorgeously realised representation of our capital city, even if it didn't live up to the standards of the series proper.

Overall then, this wasn't really K-ON at its best; a theatrical running time doesn't particularly suit its brand of slice of life comedy and struggled to accommodate the series as a result - perhaps a shorter movie would have trimmed the fat and compressed the overly elongated attempts to foster emotion from the film, and also made the comedy to "other stuff" ratio feel a little strong.  Don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy to have been granted another couple of hours with the light music club and their particular brand of entertainment, and I'm also pleased that they managed to fit at least a few musical segments into proceedings to boot, but despite appreciating the feeling of closure the film gives I can't pretend that it's a shining crown jewel in the show's animated outing.  It certainly looks beautiful and its attention to visual detail can't be faulted, but K-ON  has managed to make me laugh until I couldn't breathe and cry my heart out over the past few years, and this movie succeeded in doing neither.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to start planning my K-ON! Movie tour of London....

Monday, 16 July 2012

AKB0048 - Episode 12

We reach this penultimate episode of AKB0048 with danger aplenty in the air, as Orine in particular looks all set to be the victim of weaponry partly made by herself before she ascending into the world of pop idolisation.

Somehow, our group of understudies manage to escape the immediate attentions of their pursuers thanks to the WOTA forces - only to decide to dump themselves into even greater peril as Nagisa insists that she has to go and rescue her father from internment as a traitor to DES.  With the other girls backing her up, off we set to try and save Nagisa's dad... but does he even want saving?  As he quite rightly points out, being broken out of jail by AKB0048 would only make his situation worse, and to compound matters Nagisa's inability to do anything for her father is made worse when she sees the state of the garden her mother once took such care of.

Such is the shock of recent events that when it comes to final rehearsals for the concert, Nagisa has lost her voice entirely under the psychological strain, and before she knows it she's relegated to being a backing dancer, while Chieri snatches up the chance to take on Nagisa's solo role in the concert.  This is almost enough for Nagisa to want to throw in the towel - something that Chieri will have none of.  Thus, it seems as if we're all set for a climactic final concert to tie everything within the series together.... or are we?

After all the build up to the Lancastar concert, it has to be said that the climax to that whole endeavour was a real damp squib - I really hope the series has more in store for its finale, otherwise we've just been served up a massive anti-climax.  That aside, this was a pretty decent episode that took some of its plot threads (particular that involving Nagisa's father) to a satisfyingly logical conclusion, even if the whole "character loses her voice from psychological issues" thing has been done to death.  It almost feels as if there's too much to fit into the show's final instalment next week now, so my curiosity has been decidedly piqued as to how it's going to tackle all of the resolved issues with so little time left to do so.

YuruYuri ♪♪ - Episode 3

To mix things up a little from the norm, this week's YuruYuri shifts its focus slightly away from our main quartet of characters to instead spend a little more time with the frequently abrasive duo of Sakurako and Himawari.

Everything seems pretty normal (or normal by YuruYuri standards) as the episode begins, with this duo joining Akari and Chinatsu for lunch and trying to figure out some ways to pass the time, including speaking English (Squid Girl this episode ain't in this respect) and playing a game courtesy of a custom-made dice provided by Sakurako herself.

It's this dice which turns the topic of discussion to Valentine's Day, as the girls discuss who (if anyone) they're planning to give chocolate to.  Unsurprisingly, it's Chinatsu's plans for Yui which are the most impressive, but to fully achieve her plan of knitting a scarf as well as making chocolates she gets Himawari to tag along with her to teach her how to knit, choose the right yarn and so on.  There's no big deal here it seems, particularly as Sakurako herself co-opts Akari into helping her with homework, but something clearly isn't the same and the longer Himawari spends her time with Chinatsu the more despondent Sakurako becomes.  This all comes to a head on Valentine's Day itself, although as the amount of chocolate being passed around increases any sense of upset is only temporary.

Having ragged on YuruYuri quite a lot over the past couple of weeks I have to give it some kudos here - the switch in focus to a different pair of characters who rarely get a lot of time in the spotlight was very welcome, and the story surrounding them well-realised and actually quite sweet in a surprisingly genuine way despite Sakurako acting like a spoiled brat for quite a large portion of the episode.  Sure, it still isn't exactly hilarious anime comedy and this week's episode didn't manage to breach any greater level than light amusement on a few occasions, but simply something a little different and more considered than the norm was a welcome relief for this series, and something that I'd like to see a whole lot more of from this show.

Tari Tari - Episode 3

If it seemed like all is well after a successful recital in last week's episode of Tari Tari - think again.

Now that said big event is done and dusted, Miyamoto suddenly finds all of the members she coerced into joining the Choir Club leaving in droves, her brother included - a situation which sees the vice principle wasting no time in shutting the club down for having insufficient members.  The only saving grace here is that her club isn't the only one to kick the bucket, with Tanakawa's batminton... sorry, badmington... club also going the way of the dodo.

With both of these club leaders shorn of their purpose in after-school life, there's only one thing for it - an all or nothing badmington game, with the loser forced to join the winner's fledgling club.  Using the power of... well, cheating, Miyamoto and her two fellow remaining club members win the day, press-ganging Tanakawa and his new cohort Vienna into the new "mostly choir but occasionally badmington when Tanakawa needs to practice for the nationals" club.  Although the vengeful vice-principle is still determined to crush even this club, she's once again over-ruled by the principle himself as we learn a little more about why he considers Wakana to be so special.  It seems that he isn't the only one either, as she finds herself stalked by a burly Italian man with a pig.  You couldn't make it up...

Although this is probably the weakest episode of Tari Tari so far, and despite it continuing to have a plot that isn't going to set the world alight, this show still knows how to have fun with its characters and it's this which continues to make it pretty enjoyable to watch, albeit not mind-blowingly so.  I do worry a little that I don't care enough about Sakai's past, or the story regarding her mother, to really go the distance in terms of my enjoyment of the series, but I suppose only time will tell whether it can pull at my emotional heartstrings when push comes to shove.  For now though, I'm happy just giggling at the funny bits, and in that sense Tari Tari has been a source of easy-going amusement for me thus far.

Hyouka - Episode 13

I was going to say that the school culture festival continues apace in this week's Hyouka, but to be honest the word "apace" doesn't really fit at all as this second episode only takes us to the end of day one of the festival.

As the festival goes on, it does seem to offer up a couple of mysteries for our Classics Club members, with Chitanda learning of a missing Tarot card replaced with some suitably mysterious references, while a "friend" of Satoshi regales a tale of his own about some missing Go pieces (he should probably ask Miri Natayama about them - oops, wait, wrong series) from that particular club.

Aside from that, the gang have mixed success in promoting the Classics Club and their anthology - Satoshi manages a great plug for the club by reaching the final's of the festival quiz, whereas Chitanda fails to find either an alternate location for selling books or a chance to advertise in the school newspaper and Mayaka gets side-tracked entirely by an argument with the manga club president about the value (or otherwise) of writing reviews of manga.  I'm sure some people I know would have something to say about that...  It's arguably only Houtarou who really ends up a winner here, as he gets to spend his day doing very little, and gains both an air gun and a glimpse of some decidedly delicious pictures for his troubles.

Much like last week's episode, Kyoto Animation have again showed their prowess of making something out of nothing here, spreading the way it relates events happening very thinly but somehow making it entertaining to watch courtesy of its incredible attention to detail, particularly as it applies to the show's characters and body language.  At times it's also over-done yet it's still a joy to behold, and at times this episode triumphs more on account of what isn't said, particularly in the case of Mayaka who has clearly had something on her mind over the past couple of episodes that looks set to boil over completely at some point.  It's this kind of thing that makes you realise (much like K-ON) how much you've fallen in love with Hyouka's characters, and although it doesn't cover up the lack of anything particularly interesting happening within the series right now, it does afford it something of a free pass when it comes to unleashing the hounds on it for being outright dull.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Rinne no Lagrange: Season 2 - Episode 2

The opening episode to this second season of Rinne no Lagrange certainly had plenty to squeeze into its twenty or so minutes, not only reintroducing us to its characters but also giving us our first glimpse of a rather different Muginami and Lan than we've become used to.

Indeed, by the end of that episode the two of them were clashing over the skies of Kamogawa, with Madoka somehow managing to reactivate the Vox Aura to give chase and try and stop them - something which proves to be easier said than done as the unstable emotions of the problem at hand seem to make piloting the Vox Aura decidedly difficult.  Although Madoka does manage to keep her two friends from kicking lumps out of one another to some degree, it's the pending arrival of Le Garite forces that sees both Muginami and Lan flee, leaving Madoka alone and rather frustrated.

As Madoka tries to figure out where her friends might have gone, we get some insight into the reason for their behaviour and the clash between them, serving as it does as a view in microcosm of a pending interplanetary war between Le Garite and De Metrio as these two planets literally appear to be on a collision course with one another.  While Le Garite sees Madoka and the Vox Aura as a simple solution to wipe out De Metrio to ensure their survival, De Metrio understandably see Madoka as a huge threat to their planet, making the stand-off between Lan and Muginami very much understandable.  Still, it seems that even an issue as grave as this isn't beyond the remit of the Jersey Club, as Madoka seems determined to find a resolution that keeps both parties happy no matter what.  Good luck with that...

Although it still isn't the most compelling (or coherent) mecha anime we're ever likely to see, Rinne no Lagrange once again manages to win its charm offensive by mixing up its serious business with some serious goofiness - it's impossible not to love Madoka's character for the most part, and moments like watching her making a blasé intergalactic phone call to the head of an enemy force are pure-spun gold.  It's the fun side of the series that keeps me coming back to be quite honest, but then again it does feel as if this second season has the teeth for some hard truths and tough situations in its future, so hopefully it can manage to blend those elements with sufficient success to make this series a worthy climax to the show's story.

Joshiraku - Episode 2

It's time to head backstage (and a little further afield) this week for another dose of hanging out with the rakugo girls of Joshiraku.

Despite Marii's continued insistence on there not being any stupid questions asked amongst the gang, this week's episode has no shortage of, well, stupid questions.  First and foremost is that age-old classic of what you'd do if you won the lottery - a question which brings about some surprisingly dark answers before thoughts turn elsewhere, namely the assumption that one of the quintet (ignoring the sixth individual who only turns up later in the episode without mention) must be a secret lottery winner who hasn't told anybody about their winnings.

We had out for part of the second half of this week's episode courtesy of a trip to Tokyo Tower - a trip which itself brings such important questions as which is better out of north and south, or left and right, before moving on to discuss knife and forks in some detail.  Finally for this week's episode, a return backstage finds the girls worrying about a 'flu epidemic and bemoaning that they are so far down the priority list for a vaccine.  If only they were a doctor, like Dr. No... or maybe they could just get pregnant to move up the list?  It's amazing what the power of thought can do to a girl, be it imaginary dating (and a painful imaginary break-up) all the way through to a full-blown phantom pregnancy.

Having only somewhat enjoyed Joshiraku's opening gambit last week, I have to confess that I absolutely loved this second instalment - it certainly isn't wall to wall funny, but it managed to make me laugh long and hard multiple times with some beautifully timed and placed jokes that worked utterly brilliantly.  Of course, this is offset to some degree with cultural gags that passed me by to some degree or other, but there was still more than enough here to make this a great slice of animated comedy - if it manages to keep up this kind of record in terms of provoking laughter from me, it could prove to be one of my summer favourites.

Space Brothers - Episode 16

It's Sunday morning, and that can mean only one thing - it's time for another episode of JAXA Clock Adventures!  Or Space Brothers... I forget which.

In spite of Mutta's protestations that the broken clock in their team can surely only be the work of JAXA, it seems that nobody else quite believes it - not least Mutta himself, who already knows who the actual culprit is; worst still, the culprit seems completely unapologetic even when confronted with that fact.  The trouble is, this knowledge is making Mutta act even more suspiciously that normal, which further ramps up Yasushi's suspicions, in turn upping the stress levels within the team - a situation not helped by Serika withholding knowledge of a dwindling food supply, and eventually by an attack of the phantom alarm in the middle of the night as it comes to plague Team A.

Meanwhile, Team B is arguably in an even bigger state, as their alarm clock problems are supplemented by a breakage to their clock to further ramp up the tension within the team.  In particular, Makabe's actions are continuing to stir up trouble with his rival, who seems determined to do him down no matter what he does - a train of thought only exacerbated by Makabe's inability to track down the source of the nightly alarms.  Are our teams going to make it through the final four days of the exam without going for one another's throats?

As much as I'm still enjoying the tight and surprisingly dramatic focus on current events within the series, this week's Space Brothers almost felt a little too leisurely in its pacing, taking quite a long time to ramp things up relatively marginally.  I suppose I can forgive it that on this occasion, and we certainly seem to be nearing the climax for this particular stage of proceedings, but we're at the point where I'd like to see this arc wrapped up sooner rather than later before it risks outstaying its welcome and threatening to spoil would should be a fantastic climax to its current activities.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Kokoro Connect - Episode 2

Having quickly and predictably established its body-swapping premise in episode one, it's time for Kokoro Connect to ramp things up notably for its second instalment.

If the members of the Student Cultural Society thought that the previous day's "adventures" were a one-off, any such hopes are quickly dashed as a trio of these friends suffer a three-day body swap that ultimately causes them to miss some of their classes, leaving them needing to hastily make some excuses for their respective teachers.  The body-swapping continues seemingly at random, and with Iori in particular stressing about the results of her previous day's swap with Taichi.

In the midst of all this we finally get something approaching an answer as to what's going on, as someone (or something?) named Heartseed takes control of teach Mr. Goto's body to deliver a message to the club, effectively telling them that the body-swapping will continue to happen at random while he observes them, and that they should deal with it without telling anyone else what's going on.  It seems that our group of school kids have no choice but to accept this, but as we fast forward a week it seems that the situation is liable to start causing all sorts of rifts between these friends.

After rather a lacklustre opener, this week's Kokoro Connect at least brings rather more to the table - we now have some kind of unknown "bad guy" controlling the whole scenario, which in itself adds an extra element to proceedings, while the already shifting and fracturing relationships between our five "swapees" are starting to show rather more potential than just clichéd jokes and fan service elements.  Of course, starting is very much the operative word here - we're still in the territory of gags and slight fan service at the moment for the most part, but the buds of something a little deeper and more involved are shooting in this week's episode, and this can only be a good thing.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 13

The end of last week's Eureka Seven AO really threw a cat amongst the pigeons... or should I say, a Gekko amongst the... err.... people.  Or something.

I suppose it was bound to happen given that her name is in the title, but Eureka has returned - and what's more, she's heavily pregnant.  But how exactly did she end up appearing from the midst of a mass of Scub Coral, and why?  Even Eureka's own knowledge of her current situation seems more than a little hazy - she isn't entirely sure that she's on the same planet as she came from, and although her story about how herself and Renton came to be caught up in the Scub Coral something isn't quite right.

Things only get more confusing once Generation Bleu arrive at the scene, managing to beat the Japanese and Okinawan forces who are more than a little interested in getting their hands on Eureka for themselves.  Although Ivica recognises Eureka as the woman who saved him some years ago, Eureka doesn't remember him, and he surmises that she must be from the past and that the child she carries is in fact Ao.  But what of Georg's data which suggests that Gecko is from the far-flung future?  And how about Elena's reactions to the appearance of Eureka throughout the episode?  And why am I asking so many questions in this 'blog entry?  All of these questions have to be shelved once Truth arrives on the scene, also hoping to take Eureka for himself.  With chaos ensuing Eureka sees no alternative but to save those around her and work to protect this planet - it seems like it'll need some protecting given her claim that the Secrets are friends, not foes.

As you might have noticed from the above, this week's Eureka Seven AO asks far more questions than it answers, and to be quite honest I'm more than okay with that - it finally feels as if we have more of a firm direction for the series at last, even if I can't even begin to contemplate what that direction will ultimately mean for either the plot or the show's characters.  The only thing really working against the show at this point is that it lacks the charm of the original - it fascinates me and occasionally drags an exclamation of some kind out of me, but I don't feel so utterly caught up in its world that I have to keep watching.  It could be this lack of charm which ultimately does for Eureka Seven AO, but in spite of this I can't pretend that it's been anything other than an intensely interesting ride of late.

Moyashimon Returns - Episode 2

Although the gang continue their current rice and bean fermenting efforts in this week's Moyashimon Returns, it seems that Oikawa has something else entirely on her mind after Kei's disappearance into thin air.

In fact, there's more than one thing bothering Oikawa - as well as the strange "dungeon" she stumbled across previously, she also can't shake the feeling that Sawaki is hiding something from her.  Perish the thought!  Thus, Tadayasu finds himself being dragged around night and day by the lovely but relentless Hazuki as she researches the history of the university building in the hope of finding a clue to its secrets, be it a former World War II era military installation or something else entirely.

While an answer alludes Oikawa during her research, she stumbles across something quite possibly related as herself and Mutou nab a bath at the dormitory of the "resistance"; thanks to the hubbub surrounding some girls bathing on their premise, the ground opens up to reveal some long-forgotten tunnels which lead right into the university complex.  It isn't the answer to Hazuki's curiosity, but if nothing else it's enough to convince those around her that there's clearly some veracity to her claims of what she saw, giving her a bigger "team" to work with as a result.

I can't quite put my finger on exactly what it is (most likely because it's down to a wide blend of elements), but just like its first season Moyashimon Returns is proving to be incredibly fun to watch.  It's undoubtedly in part down to its lovable characters; equally important is its educational bent which continues to be oddly fascinating; perhaps even its wacky but believable depiction of university life helps.  Regardless, it's been enough to make me fall in love with this show all over again, and my Friday evenings are all the brighter for its cheerful and occasionally slightly goofy disposition.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Natsuyuki Rendezvous - Episode 2

Although its opener didn't exactly fill me with enthusiasm for the series, I can't really fault Natsuyuki Rendezvous for quickly getting to the crux of its concept - thankfully, that stands it in good stead for episode two of the series.

Despite managing to blurt out his feelings for the boss lady, it seems that Hazuki has done nothing to follow up on that train of thought despite spending time with Rokka in the workplace since that confession - mind you, it's kind of hard to be even vaguely romantic when the dead husband of the woman you're interested in is floating around in the background and pulling silly faces.  For her part, Rokka still seems rather intrigued by Hazuki's confession as she mulls it over in her head and tries to make sense of the whole thing from her perspective.

Ironically, it's Shimao (Deceased) that spurs Hazuki into action by calling him a chicken, and thus he plucks up the courage to get her away from the shop and the attentions of her husband by inviting her for dinner in what proves to be a simple but surprisingly effective date.  Indeed, it seems that Rokka has decided to be surprisingly receptive to the whole thing... only for Hazuki to screw up by loudly voicing his thoughts about Shimao to him right in front of his wife.  Oops.  This foolish moment leaves both parties in rather a funk, and when Rokka comes down with a bad cold the next day in its aftermath the cold war between Hazuki and Shimao shifts in some decidedly fascinating ways.

After such a nondescript first episode, I wasn't expecting to suddenly be drawn into this series, but boy did this week's Natsuyuki Rendezvous manage to turn my opinions around with aplomb.  For starters, there are a few refreshing items that emerge from this episode: firstly, the genuine depiction of Shimao's illness when we flash back to the period before his death - no mystery anime illnesses here, but rather something real, ravaging and visceral.  Then there are our lead characters - an early twenties male and a thirty-year old woman, which is a far cry age-wise from most anime fare these days.

Most importantly however is the relationship between the three main characters - although none of their personalities are particularly well defined at this stage, as the episode progresses we really get inside the emotional state of both Rokka and, in particular, Shimao, and quite frankly it's heart-rending.  Seeing this ghost of a husband unable to help his wife when she's ill or even cover her with a blanket when she's sleeping is moving in itself, and it's almost difficult to watch a man torn between never wanting to lose the woman he loves while simultaneously wanting her to be happy.  The real genius here is that this isn't played in an overblown or dramatic way - it's simply there, simmering away in the background and evidenced by a glance or a change in body language, letting the viewer infer the rest.  All of a sudden, this series is resonating with me, and from disinterest last week I now can't wait to see more, albeit via a rather melancholy sense of anticipation.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

AKB0048 - Episode 11

Things continue to move apace for our understudies as we enter what seems to be the final straight of AKB0048, in the midst of developments which look set to square the circle for a number of its characters.

The main reason for this is quickly revealed by a big, brash announcement at an event, exclaiming that the next AKB0048 will be held on Lancastar, with an aim to serve as a full debut for the current generation of understudies.  As well as the poignancy of a trip home for some of our main characters, there's also additional pressure piled upon Nagisa as she's selected to perform a solo song as part of the event - a tune rarely performed due to that solo nature, and a song usually selected to celebrate the promotion of a new individual to the now inactive Centre Novae position.

The shocks just keep on coming however, with news breaking that AKB0048 are about to be granted an even bigger rarity - a brand new song to perform, which just so happens to be the ending theme to the series.  Who'd have thought?!  With all of this news piling up, it's clear that something big is in the offing, but this is quickly put to one side as the current situation on Lancastar takes centre stage, having become a hard-line anti-entertainment supporter since we last visited it.  Of course, this means danger aplenty for the guerilla concert in the offing, but more importantly it seems to have had serious consequences for the friends and loved ones of some of our understudies.  Can they do what it takes to make sure the event goes ahead?

Although I should be used to it by now after eleven episodes of the stuff, I have to admit that the whole idea of the use of lethal force to try and obliterate entertainment from the face of the universe is becoming ever-more ludicrous, and it's played with such a straight arrow here that it somehow only makes it worse.  Perhaps more importantly for this particular episode, there's almost too much to consider here, with so many characters situations facing some kind of crisis or other that we don't have enough time to dedicate our focus to any one of them and instead end up with a bit of a mush of half-baked ideas, thoughts and emotions.  That doesn't prevent this from being another okay episode from an okay series to be fair - it's clear that AKB0048 isn't going to do anything to blow us away at this point, so we might as well just stick along for the ride and see where it ultimately takes us, particularly in terms of some of its more intriguing "mysteries".

YuruYuri ♪♪ - Episode 2

Another day, another episode of YuruYuri - what can this week's instalment pull out of the fire fuelled by piles of burning mediocre comedy anime?

Although this week's episode begins with a discussion between Kyoko and Yui abouthow they'd spent imagined lottery winning, this is little more than one in a number of attempts by the former to distract herself from having to do maths homework (and we've all been there).  From here, we move on to playing Old Maid (which Akari is terrible at, incidentally), trying to figure out nicknames for the group and ultimately failing miserably, and discussing the best ways to avoid catching a cold.  In the midst of all this, we witness the student council (well, Sakurako mostly) trying to catch a snake which has somehow found its way into their office and is stubbornly refusing to come out no matter what.

And... err.... that's it.  Even by YuruYuri's often tepid standards, this was such a forgettable episode that I'd virtually forgotten its earlier skits by the time I got to the end of it - this was the slimmest of slim comedy pickings, and a perfect example of just how mediocre this series can be when it has nothing unique or otherwise interesting to bring to the table.  My reason for sticking with this show is effectively that it makes me smile or chuckle at least a bit sometimes (witness last week's Mirakurun sketch), but on occasions like this where it doesn't even muster enough comedy to do even that I wonder why I bother.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Rinne no Lagrange: Season 2 - Episode 1

An animated advertisement for the town of Kamogawa?  It must be time for the second season of Rinne no Lagrange!!

We rejoin the action under a year after the events of the first series, where we soon find that plenty has changed - the town itself is thriving since all the alien activity that took place there previously, and the presence of staff from Le Garite have the place abuzz before you consider a new seafront cafe hosted by Squid Girl... err, I mean the cross-dressing Array and his merry band.  Elsewhere, Lan's role also seems to have changed, albeit not for the better as she becomes little more than a guinea pig for her brother, King Dizelmine.

It seems that the only person in statis throughout all of this is Madoka Kyono - with no idea of what she wants to do with her future, and unable to pilot the Vox Aura since the events of the previous series, she clings on to her Jersey Club just as she does her friendship with Lan and Muginami.  When Lan turns up on her doorstep on the eve of a universal conference to be held at Kamogawa aboard the returning Pharos, it seems as if Madoka's dreams of returning to those golden days is at hand, particularly when news filters through that Muginami is also making her return to Earth.  However, while Madoka has stayed still the goals and desires of her two friends have clearly changed markedly in the midst of the political situations to which they've both been exposed...

I think it goes without saying that this episode was always going to be about reunited the show's "holy trinity" of Madoka, Lan and Muginami in some shape or form, and this opener to the second season of Rinne no Lagrange has certainly wasted no time in doing just that - indeed, it's almost been a little too hectic in places as it smashes everything together with something akin to the story-telling equivalent of brute force.  For those who were annoyed by the first season's dalliances with whimsy and slice of life shenanigans, this second series certainly feels like a more serious beast, heavy with tension and the psychological aftermath of the gap between the show's two seasons.  The real question is where Rinne no Lagrange plans to go from here - its colourful animation, cool mecha and great soundtrack are a sight for sore eyes (and ears), but this is but a springboard that will lead the series as a whole to either success or failure.  I wait with bated breath for how things will proceed over the coming weeks.

Hyouka - Episode 12

It feels like no time at all since I last watched an episode of Hyouka.  Oh, wait a sec, that's because it was only a couple of hours ago...

Regardless, it's finally culture festival time for the Classics Club (and, of course, the rest of their school) - and what a festival it looks set to be, as the gang arrive to a riot of colour and excited energy from every corner of the school.  Well, almost every corner - for once, the location of the Classic Club's room is a huge disadvantage, squirrelled away as it is, and to make things worse Mayaka has ordered 200 copies of the club's anthology rather than the thirty they originally planned to sell.

This clearly calls for a plan, and ultimately it's decided that the Classics Club need either a better location to sell from, or some way of hijacking other clubs and events to raise their profile.  With Chitanda taking it upon herself to do whatever's necessary to secure her club a better position, success seems assured.... except Eru is rather easily distracted when it comes to shiny, colourful or otherwise exciting things, leading to her being dragged off by all sorts of clubs and activities.  At least Houtarou is having fun, holding the fort in the club with virtually nothing at all to do.

With nary a mystery in sight, this nonetheless proved to be perhaps the most entertaining episode of Hyouka thus far - tired old culture festival episode it might be, but it really brought out the best in its characters (Mayaka aside, but there's clearly more to her part in this story here given her sullen and shy behaviour) and also managed to provide some great moments of humour in the midst of its spectacularly depicted festival.  This was good fun to watch, pure and simple, and although it may feel a little luxurious to drag this story arc over multiple episodes I'm all for more of the same next week.